I've begun a new ministry this month as the "Interim Discipleship Director" at Northwest Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. Basically I oversee our church's LifeGroups (our version of Sunday School) and also our discipleship ministries.
I'm in the process of trying to meet all of our LifeGroup leaders. We have one group in particular that I was interested in; our unwed moms LifeGroup. Their leader is Gayla White, who also happens to lead the Hope Pregnancy Centers in Oklahoma City. I decided to drive over and visit Gayla at her workplace. I went out there with one frame of reference; I left with another.
Let me start by saying that I am pro-life all the way and I support Hope's mission to moms and dads in crisis. But after taking a tour of the facility and listening to Gayla share her heart for these precious infants and their families, I have moved to a whole new level of understanding. Gayla's personal testimony is a witness of God's grace, and her ministry is as missional as ministry gets. As I listened to Gayla's heart to help these young families not only keep their babies, but also her mission to bring them to Christ, I found myself choking back tears several times. There is something about a person who is passionate about their calling that just reaches into your heart and grabs you. Gayla's testimony is like that. Her mission is compelling.
Gayla has a heart for those who are facing one of life's critical issues, "Do I keep this baby or abort it?" She showed me the room where they do the sonograms. Gayla told me that about 80% of the moms who have decided to have an abortion choose to give birth after they see the sonogram. That number increases to 99% of the dads when they see the pics of their unborn child. Last year, her clinic led 68 people to Christ. I've done some calculating… that's more professions of faith than most of the Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma!
Gayla's LifeGroup is not your usual group. The people she reaches are in transition, so often they either move to another city or they join one of our other LifeGroups after they get healthy. Her group does not have an associate teacher, a care group leader, or a prayer leader. In all likelihood it never will have a "classic" structure. It is a small and fragile group of young ladies that often don't fit anywhere else. But they fit here. With Gayla and the other moms in the group, they have a home. They have a place where they belong, where they can pray together and study God's Word. A group where they are loved – unconditionally.
My visit with Gayla reminded me that not every small group or Sunday School class should look the same. Our tendency, and I know it is true with me, is to try to have an organization with a similar structure throughout. But when we do that, we end up reaching people who look like us. People on the margin, those on the fringes of society find that there is not a "place" in the church for them. We need uniqueness in our organizations. We need those groups who are unusual, who have a constituency that is different than the norm. We need those groups who, though they may never grow to a vast multitude, remind us that Jesus came for everyone.
But my visit with Gayla reminded me of something else; that when Jesus called us to love the unloved, He intended for us to show that love in tangible ways. Ultimately, the ministry of the Hope Pregnancy Center is a ministry of saving lives through personal involvement. Let's face it; it's easier to prefer ministry that is convenient and, shall we say – pristine. The kind of ministry that makes me feel good about myself. But after a few hours of involvement, I am through and can go home. Gayla's ministry is ongoing and it is messy. Her mission gets right down into the core of human existence, and it is not always pretty and neat. But it is real; and it is changing lives not only in this world, but for eternity.
I am going to take some time this coming week to put Matthew 25:34-40 into practice. "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?" And the King will answer them, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me."
Our world could use some compassion right now, let's give it!